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Cancer research resumes at The Institute of Cancer Research


Our Director of Enterprise, Dr Angela Kukula, reflects on how our researchers are adapting to the ‘new normal’ two months after we reopened our laboratories.

Posted on 25 August, 2020 by Dr Angela Kukula

Female scientist in lab wearing safety goggles

 Image: ICR researcher in the lab

Getting our research fully up and running again after the coronavirus lockdown was a vital step for the ICR. Our staff and students were desperate to get back to the work they love doing, making the discoveries that defeat cancer.

In early June, we saw the start of the gradual return of ICR scientists to our laboratories following the disruption caused by coronavirus pandemic.

We had never been completely closed during the lockdown – some of our labs remained active, working for example on critical clinical trial samples or on Covid-19, and our computational researchers remained busy. But much of our research had been at a standstill.

So it has been great over the last two months to see the ramp up of the numbers of our researchers working at the bench, and almost everyone is now back for at least part the working week.

Nik Matthews, Genomics manager in the Tumour Profiling Unit, describes how he felt about his return to the bench: “It was a pleasure to get back in and increase the work back up, not just for my own sanity, but for the great work my team does here at the ICR.”

Working in consultation with our staff and students, we developed a set of safety instructions across all our sites, along with local rules for individual workspaces. The biggest changes include the introduction of staggered working patterns, one-way systems and physical distancing rules – all of which are enabling us to accommodate as many researchers as possible safely.

As our researchers strive to adapt to the ‘new normal’, some are feeling optimistic about the future.

Erin Cutts, a postdoc in the Division of Structural Biology, says: “I'm looking forward to more flexibility in how we work in future. Being able to come in early or late and work from home could help everyone balance work and life more easily, as well as help prevent labs from being over-crowded and equipment being overbooked!”

We've lost many vital research hours to the coronavirus crisis but the need for our work continues to grow. Please help us kick-start our research to make up for lost time in discovering smarter, kinder and more effective cancer treatments, and to ensure cancer patients don't get left behind.

Find out more

Impact on our research

Although the pandemic has been enormously disruptive to our work, we have managed to continue our research in many areas, including our world-leading computational research in cancer genetics, evolution, drug discovery and clinical trials data.

But the lockdown period had a particularly large impact on our wet laboratories. While our researchers did their best to dedicate their time to activities that can be done remotely, such as writing papers, many were forced to put their vital experimental work on hold for months. And for these projects, it’s not just a matter of switching everything back on as it will often take time to ramp things up again – for example, to grow up cells in the necessary volumes needed for experiments.

This drive to get everything back up and running comes as funding for our research has declined through cuts in grants and the cancellation of major fundraising events. We also need to finish equipping our Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery – a major new research building in Sutton, which will bring together 300 scientists to discover the next generation of ‘anti-evolution’ cancer treatments

In response to these challenges, we recently launched our major new fundraising appeal to help the ICR make up for the lost time and kick-start our life-saving research.

Our researchers are as passionate as ever about making the discoveries to defeat cancer. But the coronavirus pandemic has been a major setback for their continued progress. We hope that our appeal will raise vital funds to help us compensate for the research hours that they have lost.

Find out more about our kick-start campaign.

Angela Kukula, Director of the ICR's Enterprise Unit

Image: Angela Kukula, Director of the ICR's Enterprise Unit


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